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Meta-Messages – Gerard Jones Asks Green Lantern a Question About Skin Color…

All October long I will be exploring the context behind (using reader danjack’s term) “meta-messages.” A meta-message is where a comic book creator comments on/references the work of another comic book/comic book creator using the characters in their comic. Each time around, I’ll give you the context behind one such “meta-message.” Here is an archive of the past installments!

Today, I’ll feature a suggestion that reader Ben M. sent in by e-mail. It deals with then-Green Lantern writer Gerard Jones having a little fun with a famous scene from Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams’ Green Lantern #76.

In Green Lantern #76, Hal Jordan is accosted by a man living in a slum…

Decades later, in 1992′s Green Lantern #29, some aliens are landing on Earth and they wish to have words with Hal Jordan…

Now almost certainly, Jones is just having a little bit of fun here and did not actually have a problem with O’Neil’s original scene. So it is just a cute little bit, but, well, it is a cute little bit so that is why I am sharing it with you all!

Hal had an answer this time, by the way…

27 Comments

Snicker.

I’ve never otherwise been a fan of the Green Lantern franchise or concepts– but I loved the Jones era of GL/ and GL: Mosaic.

The O’Neil/Adams GL/GA stories are exercises in histrionics and should only be appreciated in their historical context. They’re terribly written stories with exceedingly simplistic conclusions

mmmm: Seriously? Terribly written? I’ll give you “simplistic conclusions,” but they’re no more histrionic than modern comics and are generally much more tightly plotted. Plus Neal Adams’ art on those stories would be outstanding for any era.

Gerard Jones deserved better than to be dumped unceremoniously for Marz. Not one of DC’s finer moments.

Actually, there seems to be a LOT of GLs in the Corps that would seem to spend way too much time on their homeworld’s affairs, rather than the sector as a whole, if you look at the bulk of the GLC stories from the 70s-80s.

And, I won’t even go into how G’Nort got his ring…..

Thanks for using my suggestion, Brian – any chance of seeing the second part of it?

I always felt Jones’ Green Lantern run was very underappreciated, especially Mosaic. The abrupt introduction of Emerald Twilight and Kyle Rayner (even though I like the character) was horrible at the time for anyone who had been enjoying the previous five years.

Yep, there is a strong chance. ;)

Hilarious twist but it does touch upon an important fact that most GL writers forget: Green Lanterns are responsible for entire sectors not just their own planets….

I think it was in an issue of Quasar in the 90′s where he’s talking to Eon about being “Protector of the Universe” and Wendell just goes while looking at a map of the universe “That’s an awfully big place. Couldn’t I have a team or something?” or something to that effect….I remember just laughing out loud to that beause I thought about Green Lantern and for Marvel, The Nova Corps…..

The excuse they sometimes use is that a lot of space sectors just don’t have that many inhabited planets in them. In fact, I’m pretty sure I remember mention of at least one that’s entirely empty (if I’m remembering correctly, I forget whether there’s no Lantern for that sector or if they bring someone in from another sector to cover it).

So whenever a writer refers to a Lantern as “The Green Lantern of (planet name)” instead of “The Green Lantern of Sector (number)” it’s probably safe to assume that’s the only planet with life in their sector.

Of course, we know for a sure that Earth’s sector has lots of other races living in it, including Abin Sur’s home world and, I guess, the planets those guys in the panels above come from (not sure if those were established races or just made up for that issue). And presumably Mars, too, which is currently uninhabited but it’s always surprised me that I’ve never seen mention of a Martian Green Lantern from J’onn J’onzz’s past. In fact, I’m always surprised how rarely we see members of well-known DCU alien races in the GL Corps. Has there ever been a Khund Green Lantern? Or a Tamaranian? Or a Kryptonian for that matter?

You’d think that either they’d want to recruit one of the few living Kryptonians to cover whatever sector the planet used to be in (they’re still natives of the sector, planet or no) or, if there’s a non-Kryptonian GL for that sector, you’d think Superman would want to have a stern talk with him (or with the Guardians if the GL of Krypton’s sector is long dead – I’m never sure how long ago Krypton was supposed to have blown up, considering that all it’s survivors seem to turn up around the same time).

Has there ever been a Khund Green Lantern?

Gail Simone made a Khund a GL as part of her Wonder Woman run (and I feel like that was one of the better stories of her WW run.)

Is there any campaign I could join to get Mosaic collected? That was a terrific book, John Stewart’s finest hour.

I loved the Gerard Jones GL stories.The Road Back is probably my favorite GL story. I wasn’t a huge fan of Mosaic, but I loved how Jones handled the characters.

Krypton was in Tomar-Re’s sector — when he was retired in the 1970′s, the Guardians confornted him with his greatest failure — being unable to prevent its destruction. Turns out that Kal-El was destined to be “The Greatest Green Lantern of Them All!” (the story’s title), until the Guardians decided that letting him go to Earth was maybe a better plan.

Yep, the Guardians were major ass**** jerks even back then.

Years ago — maybe on the CBR boards, but I’m not sure — I once saw another fan assert that Marv Wolfman has commented on what answer Hal could have offered in that notorious scene at the start of the O’Neil/Adams run. I gathered this was just something Marv Wolfman had said aloud at a convention or something; not a scene he snuck into a comic book script of his own.

I’ll try to paraphrase from memory what this fan said Wolfman had suggested for Hal’s response:

“What did I ever do for the black skins? Well, shucks, hardly anything — except for literally saving the world at least twenty times since I started wearing this ring! Which means I saved your life — and those of all the other black skins on Earth — at least twenty times! Man, your gratitude is just . . . overwhelming!” :)

Yeah, as was said above, the seventies Green Lantern (and just seventies comics/pop culture in general) was pretty rife with sanctimony and overblown gestures for the sake of overblown gestures. The idea that the guardian of an entire space sector, who is personally responsible for saving every life in that sector many times over, could be accused of ignoring any racial group within it is pretty ridiculous. Like until then, he had just been saving white folks from galactic threats while letting black people fall into the open mouths of space-alligators or whatever. But you know when Denny O’Neil finished writing that scene, he sat back and said to himself “My GOD this is an important comic book.”

I understand why people take issue with the whole “Hal hasn’t done anything for the black skins” moment when taking into account the duties of the GL Corps, but the power of the moment lies in what it represents: a superhero who can’t see the injustices right before him. The scene arises from a situation where Hal is standing up for a crooked landlord, and on the page afterward, Hal thinks to himself after saying his oath, “But evil was all around me…disguised as familiar, everyday persons and places! I’ve lived this long without learning that BAD doesn’t have to be a bug-eyed monster or a mad scientist . . .”

That scene is not about Hal’s duty as a Green Lantern; it’s about Hal’s duty as a human being. it’s a metaphor for DC super heroics of the period as a whole (and hell, American race relations at that very moment), and that’s why it works.

AJ, I think everyone understands the point O’Neil was going for, but I think it makes Hal Jordan look unrealistically naive. It’s like all those stories where someone comes at Captain America the most banal, angry dorm room political viewpoint that centers on some point that’s way less profound than it thinks it is, and Captain America is so floored he immediately just hangs his head in shame without even attempting to try a retort. Like we’re supposed to believe Cap is such a Polyanna that he never, ever knew that America wasn’t perfect or life can be unfair, to the point that just merely pointing out that America isn’t perfect will automatically floor him each time.

I think this comes from people who have never seriously sought out and entertained the views of someone of different political bent or generation, only echo chambers of their own viewpoints, to the point they start believing there are no persuasive counterpoints to their personal views.

No, T, I don’t think everyone gets O’Neil’s point. I’ve seen enough comments over the years for that to be clear.

Of course the scene makes Hal look naive–that’s the point. In the context of 1970 DC Comics, it was a point worth making. Sure, the GL/GA stories be overwrought and it may be hard to see why it was such a big deal, but heart of what the stories were getting at–that scene in particular–is still laudable.

Of course the scene makes Hal look naive–that’s the point.

I know it’s the point. I just don’t think it’s a believably devastating or well-argued one, at least not to the extent to which he’s shown being so shamed by it. As another commenter showed with Marv Wolfman’s take on the issue, there were definite responses or plausible defenses he could have taken that should have at least been explored, not the least of which is that he routinely tackles problems that endanger all of the world, with all of its races, including blacks. And most importantly, that it would be a waste of his resources to spend so much time on small issues when his vast powers are often better used on bigger ones.

Regarding whether or not Hal’s reaction to that sudden speech from the African-American man was “believable” . . . I can certainly see both points of view.

On the one hand, as you might guess from my previous attempt to paraphrase what I was once told that Marv Wolfman had said in Hal’s defense, I did feel that Hal could have made a good case for his proper role as a Green Lantern being to protect everyone equally from the really blood-curdling threats that usually didn’t care what color anyone’s skin was!

Or, to phrase it differently, if I were in his shoes, I might have said frankly: “Listen, buddy, a Green Lantern is expected to handle the biggest and baddest threats — such as alien tyrants and homegrown supervillains who want to enslave or sterilize this entire planet! Sometimes I can handle such threats alone. Sometimes a bunch of my JLA buddies get involved and it takes everything we’ve got to finally pull a rabbit out of a hat. But either way, I feel I’m doing a lot of good for all humans by just keeping them alive long enough for them to keep working to solve one social problem or another, as best they can, step by step! It’s not my job to try to micromanage every little thing that goes on in any given neighborhood!”

(Note: It suddenly occurs to me that when Gerard Jones wrote the miniseries “Emerald Dawn II,” detailing New Recruit Hal’s first encounters with Sinestro in the Post-COIE DCU, he showed us that Sinestro had, in fact, fallen into the trap of thinking it was his proper function as a GL to keep everything on his home planet of Korugar under tight control, all the time, in the name of “preserving Order.”)

So I can strongly sympathize with the feeling that Hal getting scolded by that old guy was rather unfair . . .

On the other hand!

I can still see some power in that scene, even today, over 40 years after it was written. And let’s face it: Just because Hal had unquestionably been doing a lot of good work in his superhero career up until that date doesn’t mean his conscience was entirely clear on whether or not he had been making the best possible use of his ring’s capabilities and had been properly budgeting his time for the best effect.

Besides which, just because there might be some pretty good counterarguments theoretically available for Hal to use against that guy’s charges about not helping “the black skins” doesn’t mean that those counterarguments would necessarily spring to the tip of his tongue in the first two seconds after he was blindsided by hearing this scathing point of view, apparently for the first time!

There have been times in my life, going back to when I was just a kid, when someone would accuse me of something, or ask me an angry question, that caught me completely off guard and I’d sorta freeze up in shock as I started trying to sort out: “Just where is this guy coming from? What are his basic assumptions that I wasn’t expecting to run into any time soon?” And so forth. If I didn’t have a snappy comeback in eloquent language on the tip of my tongue, that didn’t mean I was absolutely in the wrong and the other guy was absolutely in the right. It only meant I was stunned by this unexpected question, argument, verbal attack, or whatever it was.

If you asked me again, a few minutes later or a few hours later, I might have finally figured out exactly what my truthful rebuttal should have been when someone started snapping awkward questions or accusations at me!

So I can take that scene as meaning that Hal had never before really given as much as a minute’s thought to such questions as: “What can I, and/or should I, be doing with my ring to help the civil rights struggle in general, and people living at the mercy of slumlords in this city in particular?” In that case, the sudden realization that he hadn’t ever pondered those particular questions before might make him feel very guilty and embarrassed as a first reaction — even if a neutral observer (if there ever is such a thing in the real world) might feel that he would have been fully entitled to make the aforementioned point about “Gee, I’ve saved your life twenty times or more — doesn’t that count for anything? If I hadn’t done that, the problem of dishonest landlords wouldn’t be weighing on your mind right now!”

Or, to put it another way, I can stand Denny O’Neil showing Hal being that “naive” and “uninformed” about the way he was perceived (fairly or otherwise) by black people in that city . . . as long as it was done on a one-time basis instead of Hal being equally naive and uninformed, month after month, for the next couple of years, and never learning a thing!

I think the GL/GA stuff has to be read allegorically; it’s not about specific characters, exactly, but about treating them as symbols of the American mainstream. Hal is very out-of-character, and the argument made to him falls flat in plot terms. But yeah, it was an actual point — a point that had little to do with Green Lantern specifically, and a lot to do with the superhero genre in general — that O’Neil felt was worth making, and the comic is worthwhile if you want to read it to agree or disagree with that larger point.

I will say that the second half of the GLA/GA stories, starting with the famous “Speedy is a junkie” issues, do start to become about the characters. They also start to return some nuance to the stories. Green Arrow’s sanctimony stops being what makes him better than Hal, and starts to become what makes him a jerk who screws up the lives of the people he’s supposed to care about. Even the final issue oft he original run, which looks like a sanctimonious pile of crud with it’s Jesus-manque, turns out cleverer than that. Isaac, the “Christlike” environmentalist, accomplishes nothing whatsoever except, as Green Arrow points out, endangering innocent people when one of his pranks goes wrong. And the heroes don’t save Isaac or convince Ferris Air to do things differently; all Hal can muster is a destructive tantrum at the end.

It’s not as good as people try to say it is: it does, especially early on, oversimplify the problems it wants to discuss and turns Hal and Ollie into cardboard cutouts, mouthpieces at the worst of times and bores at the best. But after a few detours into outright sci-fi where the social stuff became more goofy and parodic — “A Peril in Plastic” is probably the emblem of this bit of th run — O’Neill and Adams started figuring out how to mix what worked about the characters with what they wanted to say. By then, of course, sales had cratered and the last story became a Flash backup with next to no social commentary in it whatsoever.

@Omar Karindu:

On the “allegorical” thing . . . I always understood — and I figured every other modern reader understood — that O’Neil’s implication that Hal seemed to have been totally clueless about the problems and concerns of African-Americans in general, right up until that moment, was not really meant as a slam against Hal in particular. Hal’s focus on other matters was no worse, and no less understandable, than the similar focuses of a zillion other well-meaning “middle-class white guys” of that era in the real world.

Nor did I get the impression that O’Neil meant to suggest that Hal stacked up unfavorably in comparison to various other Silver Age DC heroes in O’Neil’s estimation — such as Flash, Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, the Teen Titans, etc. (As I understand it, there were precious few — if any — black faces showing up in the titles of any of those DC heroes throughout the entire decade of the 1960s! Not even as members of the supporting cast for a single story?)

No, I agree that he was arbitrarily using Hal as the poster child for an entire school of thought, simply because Hal was what he had to work with at that moment. If he hadn’t been starting a run on the “Green Lantern” title that year, he probably would have written a very similar scene for some other (white) DC hero’s solo title instead!

They were stories of their time and place.

SUPERGODS has a lot of questionable material in it, but one thing that I found right on was how Morrison described the 1970s movement: Hendrix-experienced, socially-aware comics junkies growing up and shoving the properties kicking and screaming into a grungier, dirtier, messier kind of social awareness, where everything couldn’t be wrapped up neatly by the end of the issue.

I think it’s worth seeing these stories as the basis for much of what we consider to be ‘serious’ comics today.

Not taking sides, because I agree with both sides of this debate. But I just thought I’d point out that, despite his being the appointed protector of an entire space sector, an awful lot of the issues prior to #76 had GL not dealing with world-shattering menaces, but tackling turkeys like Sonar, the Tattooed Man, the Bottler, the Lamplighter, and the Dazzler, and thwarting assorted bank robberies and threats to Ferris Aircraft. It didn’t hurt to point out that, in-between cosmic disasters, he could have been doing a little more than protecting corporations and financial institutes.

Yes, I like Silver Age stuff myself, but before the O’Neil/Adams era at DC, an awful lot of their comics from the 1960s or so seemed to show heroes protecting the status quo (which in the US was always assumed to be a good status quo). At the time, it was really a groundbreaking thing. It’s certainly easily parodied, but if you compare the early 1970s stuff to, say, the mid-1960s stuff, it was trying to address some serious issues which had hardly ever been addressed in mainstream comics (or, at least, at DC) before.

Most people seem to miss the point that O’Neil chose GL to represent the Conservative viewpoint and GA to represent the Liberal one.

Les Fontenelle

April 6, 2013 at 2:56 pm

Yes, and the old black man represented reality banging on the heroes’ door. As Bob pointed out, GL’s adventures spent a LOT of time pursuing earthbound villains, bank robbers and protecting Ferris Aircraft; and the criticism that the old man expressed was perfectly valid, regardless of Wolfman’s supposedly snappy comeback (to be fair, the same criticism that was directed at GL could be leveled at most superheroes of that time, GL just happened to be written by someone who actually wanted to point out that issue).

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